Creating Your Tribe: A Direct Seller’s Guide to Finding Their Customer Base

Detective Columbo Cartoon
What is iconic about this guy?

There is a saying that if you try appealing to everyone you will appeal to no one. The same is true for sales: If you are trying to sell to everyone, you will sell to no one. A big mistake that many direct sales professionals make is being too bland…they try to keep their personality in out of their copy so that they don’t offend anyone and therefore, lose a customer. The truth is that their customer loyalty is lukewarm because there is no real connection.

You are much better off taking a stand for who you are and alienating a segment of the population because everyone else will become that much more connected to you. That doesn’t mean that you should be super-opinionated and obnoxious about it. It just means that it is okay to be you…to be a human being with a personality and beliefs (who is respectful of other human beings with personalities and beliefs).

For the purposes of personal branding, however, these traits should be boiled down to a few regular threads in your content (posts, videos, etc.).

For instance, my wife and I are huge pet lovers. We have 4 dogs and 4 cats…she is the dog-mama and I am the cat-daddy. We include our pets in our videos and posts on a regular basis. Some people say we shouldn’t do that because we sell products that we ship from our home and they are afraid we will alienate customers who are allergic to pets. On the contrary, we include our pets in our paid ads because 1) it is genuinely who we are and 2) we don’t want people who are allergic to dogs and cats to order from us unknowingly an have an allergic reaction. For us, it makes sense to repel that segment of the customer population. But the effect on the rest of our customers is that it binds them to us because they can relate…they love their dogs and cats, too…they are our tribe!

There are many elements of personal branding on social media. We call them the pillars. I’m not sure who coined that term, but it seems to be broadly used. Your pillars are those things that can be associated with you. They are the things that anyone who knows you and follows you will immediately associate with you – your trademarks or “signature” elements. For my wife, blue/purple hair. For me, a long beard. For her, dogs. For me, cats. The two of us…the playful banter of couples, an irreverent sense of humor and silliness. She is the queen and I am the minion. Somehow my name got morphed from David to “Davis” by one of our clients and it stuck. I am now known affectionately as “Minion Davis” by our tribe. The key to our branding is that who we are to our followers is who we are in our home…warts and all. We are authentic.

So what is a pillar? Some of these pillars are personality traits, some are physical traits, some are things a person identifies with or likes, and sometimes, there is just some quirk or eccentricity that helps to define a person. For those old enough to remember, there used to be a TV show called Kojak with Tele Savalas playing the main character. He was a bald-headed detective who loved lollipops. The bald head and the lollipop were his trademarks and if you mentioned Kojak back then, everyone thought of a bald head and a lollipop…these were two of his branding pillars.

Another detective show from that era was Columbo. Columbo was a brilliant detective who came across as a bumbling idiot and he always wore a rumpled trench coat and had a half-smoked cigar. His appearance and behavior always led the bad guys to underestimate him. He became an American Icon and the bumbling detective persona, with a trench coat and cigar, were his pillars. When you said the word Columbo, that is what people thought of.

Direct sellers are characters in peoples lives in the same way television characters are. People think of us as characters and engage with us because of who we are to them. If Kojak and Columbo were both sellers of the same product, some people would gravitate towards Kojak and others would gravitate towards Columbo…not because one is better than the other, but because they either relate to one better or aspire to be like one more than the other.

Being conscious of this is important in branding yourself because you should choose pillars that not only define you but which also keep you at the top of your customers’ minds. For years, whenever I saw the Tootsie Pops on the candy aisle in a convenience store, I thought of Kojak. In the same way, when people see someone with a beard (pretty common, right), they may think of me. Or when they see someone with wildly colored hair, they may think of my wife. Or when their pet comes into the room it may trigger a thought of us.

What will your customers associate with you? I suggest that you put some thought into your personality, likes, dislikes, quirks, beliefs, opinions and values and winnow them down to between 5 and 10 pillars that you can post about and make the majority of your posting center on these things in an effort to build a personal brand, be your authentic self, and attract people who can relate to you to your tribe.

Are you the only Cleveland Browns fan in Texas? Post pictures of you in your Browns jersey at a sports bar surrounded by people wearing Houston Texans or Dallas Cowboys jerseys. Make it a running joke.

Are you a sushi connoisseur? Post food pics and reviews from a different Sushi restaurant every week.

Are you really into the movie Grease? Go live from a Grease singalong, post pics of your memorabilia, tell the story about the time you tackled John Travolta to get his autograph.

Think about all the people who are connected because they are raving fans of Star Wars…or Star Trek…or Dr. Who…or Comic Books. It doesn’t take some earth-shattering event or world-saving cause to bond people…just some simple commonalities. And, you don’t even have to actually have something in common. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said “I wish I could grow a beard like yours” or how often we are in a restaurant and someone comes up to my wife and says “I love your hair! I wish I was brave enough to do that.” (Something else people say that let us know we are building a tribe is we get comments from strangers in stores and restaurants like “I know you don’t know me, but my kids and I watch you from my bed every night…we just love you guys!”)

What you are doing is creating a narrative that people associate with you. Some will like you for it and others won’t. But the ones who do will feel connected and loyal and they will want to support your business. I know I would rather buy my soap from the crazy lady that tackled John Travolta than to give my money to Target. So go forth, my friends, and tackle your own superstar, tell us your story and sell us soap.

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